Meet a Local Cartoonist: A Chat with S.L. Gallant
I only recently met S.L. (Shannon) Gallant, even though he's lived in D.C. for years. He's drawn the child-friendly Marvel Adventures for Marvel Comics, the Pink Panther for commercial insulation ads, and a bunch of adaptations of Dreamworks animated film characters for British comics. I'm glad he set aside his drawing deadline to answer a few questions:
Washington City Paper: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?
S.L. Gallant: Currently I'm working on GI Joe for IDW Publishing. It's a more realistic style, but I do a lot of other work that is in a style more classically cartoonish. I've drawn comic versions of Shrek, Bee Movie, and an adaptation of the Monsters Vs. Aliens film for Titan Books in the U.K. I also do freelance illustration work for public relations and advertising agencies. For a large part of my career, I was a staff illustrator and in that job, being able to switch between realism and cartooning at a moments notice was useful, not to mention the experience taught me to meet insane deadlines and to be quick turning out an image.
WCP: When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?
SLG: I was born in Nashville, Tenn., in the '70s where my father was a studio drummer. He worked with Elvis, the Everly Brothers, Dolly Parton, and Journey, among many others. And my mother was the first woman to solely own a drum shop in the U.S. Between them, I grew up in a creative environment, so I never had someone screaming at me to get a real job. They were always supportive of my endeavors.
WCP: Why are you in Washington now? What neighborhood or area do you live in?
SLG: I applied for a job in D.C. while living in Oklahoma, really just to prove a point to an old creative director who said I'd never work for a large agency. One of the largest PR firms in the world, with an office in D.C., was looking for an on staff illustrator, so I sent them my portfolio. I ended up getting the job, and I moved here in 2000. I've lived in Dupont Circle most of the time I've been here, and I love it. The area has a great vibe because of the mix between the diversity of culture and lifestyles. My wife calls it the real life Sesame Street, because we know a lot of the locals, and it really feels like "these are the people in my neighborhood."
WCP: What is your training and/or education in cartooning?
SLG: I had very little training in comics, because in the '80s many schools didn't see it as a viable art form. I attended the Atlanta College of Art, which was later purchased by the Savannah College of Art & Design, and earned a degree focused on illustration. SCAD now has one of the strongest comic art programs in the country, but I had to seek out artists and pester them with questions when I was in school. Lucky for me, Gaijin Studios was in Atlanta, and I was able to get a lot of advice from Brian Stelfreeze, Cully Hamner, Adam Hughes, Dave Johnson,Tony Harris, and Joe Phillips, who were all with the studio at that time.
WCP: Who are your influences?
SLG: All of the Gaijin guys are influences on me, but it was probably Adam Hughes more than any of the others. Adam and I both have a love for Alphonse Mucha, but I try to keep my eyes open to other artists, in and out of comics. If I could only choose from those in the field, then I'd have to pick the ones with more realistic styles. Artists with a strong understanding of anatomy, and a love for environments are the ones I gravitate toward. The list is endless, but names like Alex Raymond, Hal Foster, Alex Toth, Gene Colan, Al Williamson, Gil Kane, Neal Adams, Curt Swan, and Wally Wood are of course on the list. My hope, though, is to be considered in the same group as artists like Jackson Guice and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, guys who were working when I was growing up, and are still churning out pages.
WCP: If you could, what in your career would you do over or change?
SLG: I wouldn't have let myself get caught up in my day job. I was working as an illustrator, but not on the sort of images I wanted to. I just got comfortable drawing for a living, and then I stopped pursuing my dream for a long time. Brian Stelfreeze once told me the only I wouldn't get work in comics was if I stopped trying to. He was right about that, and a lot of other things.
WCP: What work are you best known for?
SLG: Easily GI Joe, since that's the book I've been on the longest, and it has the largest following of any I've had the pleasure to be involved with.
WCP: What work are you most proud of?
SLG: I would hope to say that artistically it's always the book I just finished, because I don't want to be a guy who always looks back to the one X-Men issue he did a good job on and then never improves. I try to move forward with each issue, and I feel as though I have so far. Not every panel is a success, so I try to grade books as a whole. One issue I do have a soft place in my heart for was the first issue of Torchwood I did for Titan Books. That's partly because I'm a big Doctor Who fan, but mainly because the editors in the U.K. are good friends now. It just brings up pleasant memories for me when I think about it.
WCP: What would you like to do or work on in the future?
SLG: Not to harp on it, I'd love the chance to do a proper Doctor Who story. I keep bugging IDW (who publish the comic in the States) to let me have a go, but they're happier to keep me on Joe right now.
WCP: What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?
SLG: Who has time to have a block? I got pages to do! I don't work, I don't get paid. If I have the time, I'll run down to the National Gallery and sketch from the masters. I always learn something and it's not about copying for me, so much as it forces me to examine what they were doing with a focused eye. What compositional choices they made, the details they chose to keep/leave out, and how they direct the viewer's eye through an image. Those sort of things can be really inspiring and useful in my own work.
WCP: What do you think will be the future of your field?
SLG: Who knows? There are those that think digital comics will be the next step, others think it will die, and some think it will evolve into something more akin to the story elements you see in video games. As long as I can keep drawing and someone is willing to pay me for it, I'm happy.
WCP: What's your favorite thing about D.C.?
SLG: The fact that you can always find something to do is great. Between the galleries, and cultural events going on, there's always something.
WCP: Least favorite?
SLG: The fact that people are so self absorbed when moving about the city. From drivers who ignore signals, and are always screaming about traffic that they knew was going to be there, to people who stop dead in the middle of a sidewalk to talk to someone when there's a million other places to stand instead of being in everyone's way. My wife accuses me of "pedestrian rage." Oh well.
WCP: What monument or museum do you take most out-of-town guests to?
SLG: The National Gallery is my favorite, the Freer/Sackler, and when my mom is in town we always get to the National Museum of the American Indian. If we're lucky Sherman Alexie is in town doing a lecture which is really just a stand-up comedy routine.
WCP: Do you have a Web site or blog?
In other news, Ruben "Tom the Dancing Bug" Bolling has written in to say that he's also raising money for Haitian relief efforts.
* Clarification: The Atlanta College of Art was not purchased by the Savannah College of Art & Design. Sunny Nelson, the latter's director of media relations, writes:
The article quotes Mr. Gallant as saying that the Atlanta College of Art was purchased by the Savannah College of Art and Design. That's actually incorrect. The boards of both ACA and SCAD agreed that ACA should become a part of SCAD in 2006 to combine the distinct offerings of each college to bring enhanced benefits to students, faculty, staff and alumni.